Understanding the Austrian wine labels and wine laws

Special thanks to Klaus Wittauer of KW Selection for his contribution to this post. One of the challenges of Austrian wine is to separate it from their German neighbors.

Austrian wine law is based on European wine legislation. Austria, however, has maintained its individuality. Controlled origin, capped yields, quality designations and official quality controls are the pillars of Austrian wine law. Three general quality designations are recognized: Tafelwein (table wine), Qualitätswein (wine of quality), and Prädikatswein (“certified” wine). The categories are determined by the sugar content of the grape must, expressed according to the Klosterneuburger Mostwaage (KMW) system.

Important elements of the label are origin, varietal, vintage, quality designation, alcohol content, residual sugar, official control number, producer, and bottler

Controlled origin and capped yields: the highest allowed yield per hectare (2.47 acres) for Landwein, Qualitätswein, and Prädikatswein is 9,000 kg  (19,841 lb) of grapes, or 6,750 kg (14,881 lb) of wine.            If more is produced the entire yield must be classed as the lowest quality designation, Tafelwein. Tafelwein can be sold without exact reference to origin, varietal, and vintage.

Austrian Qualitätswein and Austrian Prädikatswein are controlled twice by state laboratories: a chemical analysis is followed by a tasting commission. The official control number and the red-white-red band document this extensive process of control and quality assurance.

Austrian quality wines are coming in either in classic dry, fruit driven versions (DACs, Klassik/Classic, Kabinett, Wachau Federspiel), or in full-bodied Reserve style (DAC Reserve, dry Spätlese, Wachau Smaragd) suited also for long ageing. Apart from these main categories Austria has also fine sparkling wines, aromatic rose and world class off-dry) Spälese, Auslese) and noble sweet wines (Beerenauslese/BA, Trockenbeerenauslese/TBA, Eiswein and Schilfwein/Strohwein).

Qualitätswein (Quality Wine)

Austrian Quality wine (Qualitätswein) by definition is made from one (or a cuvee) of 35 authorized grape varieties and has to come from a specified region. There are four generic specified regions: Niederösterrreich (Lower Austria), Burgenland, Steiermark (Syria) and Wien (Vienna), each offering a wide range of wine styles. Within the generic regions, several smaller, specific regions lend their names to the wines that best reflect regional character.

DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus)

On a wine label, when you see the letters DAC following the name of the wine-growing area – this menas you have in front of you a quality wine that is typical for that particular region (like AOC in France or DOC in Italy). The additional designation of “Reserve” indicates a more powerful wine. To date, seven Austrian wine-growing areas have successfully adopted this profile

Prädikatswein (Late Harvest Wine)

Prädikatswein is a quality wine that has undergone a particular type of harvest and naturity. Enrichment (captalization, concentration) or sweetening is not permitted.

Prädikat Levels:

  • Spätlese: minimum must =weight 19° KMW, for fully ripe grapes
  • Auslese: 21° KMW, a Sälese from carfully selected grapes
  • Beerenauslese (BA): 25° KMW, from overripe grapes and / or grapes with noble rot
  • Ausbruch: 27° KMW, solely from noble rot grapes or overripe dried grapes
  • Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA): 27° KMW, a selection mostly from extremely shrunken noble rot grapes
  • Eiswein: 25° KMW, from grapes that were naturally frozen when harvested and pressed

Strohwein/Schilfwein: 25° KMW, from fully ripe and sugar-rich grapes that were either dried on straw or reeds or hung on strings for a minimum of tree months before pressing

Maximum Yield for Austrian Quality Wine:

9000 kg/ha (= 3,64 tons/acre) or 67.5hl/ha

KMW (Klosterneuburger Mostwaage) – Must weight in grammes of sugar per 100 gr. of must.

19KWM corresponds to approx 22.5 Brix

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One Comment on “Understanding the Austrian wine labels and wine laws”

  1. November 3, 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    This is a great post. Thank you for the information on Austrian wine and the laws of wine in Austria!

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